July 28, 2012

Melina Marchetta, Gayle Forman & Kristin Cashore

About two weeks ago, I found myself in the midst of a crowd of people at Books of Wonder listening to three amazing authors - Melina Marchetta, Gayle Forman & Kristin Cashore - talk about their books and their writing. These three women are amazing in their own right, so to have them all together in one room was definitely electrifying and inspiring.

Though I wasn't able to take a lot of photos, I did take down some notes. I thought it'd be fun to share a little about what they discussed; hopefully, you'll find it inspiring and interesting, just as I did.

About companion novels

All three of these authors don't really write sequels; they prefer to write companion novels for characters they've created that need their own stories.

Kristin: She wrote all three of her books as separate novels, though the same characters appear. A problem she created in Graceling (an impenetrable forest) ended up being something she had to deal with in Bitterblue.

Gayle: She didn't intend to write Where She Went. It ended being based on a moment where Adam tells Mia not to make him write a song.

Melina: She hated Froi (She didn't even like the name!), but he got stuck in her head. Quintana's book happened because Froi's book was basically at a "five months pregnant" stage when it ended and it needed more to come full term.

About the backlash they've received

Kristin: She often get backlash for being non-traditional in her books (i.e. girls not wanting to get married). Some backlash also occurred when her character's names were translated into other languages since they often meant funny things.

Melina: One thing she thinks people should remember - it's not the author, but the character who has issues. She tends to switch off when it comes to reviews, since they're actually meant for readers and not authors.

Gayle: People got upset about the swearing and bad language in her books, and not so much the part about her characters being sexually active.

About sexual tension

Gayle: It's the build-up that makes things tantalizing and delicious. What's not going on is actually what's important.

Melina: She says you need to know the characters really well, because vulnerabilities have to shine through. In the case of Taylor and Jonah (in Jellicoe Road), for instance, they seem to be the only two people who can help put each other back together again.

Kristin: The level of conflict and the power dynamic is an important factor  - these are two people who are the only people that can take each other on. What you don't say tends to be more evocative than what you do end up saying.

About point of view

Melina: The voice you choose to write in makes the story what it is. The view from different characters will make a story different.

Kristin: She thinks that she mostly wrote her books from different character perspectives out of boredom; she didn't want to tell the same character's story. In Graceling, the main character is Katsa who's oblivious to her emotions; in Bitterblue, the main character is Bitterblue, who is attuned to her emotions.

Gayle: Switching point of views is a good way to continue your series. You end up stepping away from the characters and learning more about them. A character completes an arc by the time the story is done.

About writing contemporary and fantasy novels

Melina: (FYI, she wrote her contemporary novels first, and then started her fantasy series). Her fantasy series was inspired by a poster of a refugee camp in Africa, with everyone speaking a different language. Her thought: so many people are not in their homeland. She couldn't write about refugees in a contemporary novel without sounding preachy, so she wrote to her publisher and got the okay to write a fantasy novel instead.

Kristin: It depends on what character comes knocking on her mind. All of her novels tend to be about the same things, just explained differently.

Gayle: Travel is what inspires her writing, since it was part of her life as a journalist.

About characters that are hard to like - and yet, are still lovable

Gayle: You have to love the characters and understand their pain.

Kristin: They're the most fun and the easiest to write. It's a release of her own crankiness. Having fun with the characters will lead readers to enjoy.

Melina: She gave a difficult character one thing people could love about him.

About the most helpful advice from their editors

Kristin: "Would you consider starting from scratch?" (About Bitterblue) This was refreshing and helped jumpstart a change in mindset. You shouldn't let fear make your decisions.

Gayle: Her editor usually provides the "key" to her book.

Melina: The word "said" is a good word, so don't try to replace it. Don't be a thesaurus; use a thesaurus. Less is more.

About reviews

Melina: She will not go to print if she's not 100% happy with her novel. She tends to stop reading a review after she sees "I wanted to like this book".

Gayle: You only control the book that you're working on. You have to feel solidly about it. The book should be reviewed in a fair manner - if it is, it wouldn't bother her even if it was negative.

Kristin: Reviewers tend to speculate on what an author is attempting to do and guess at who an author is. It tends to irk her because they don't know who she is.

About characters

Melina: They're just there. It's a process of trust, because you have to let them into your head. Her stories begin with a character. She waits for them to come to her, and listens to dialogue before she starts writing.

Kristin: She likes observing her character. She feels who they are in her heart, and she tries to get characters to reveal themselves through words. You have to control the urge to fight your characters.

Gayle: Characters are people who have a mind of their own. She doesn't know where they'll take her, so it's always a surprise!

About the intent behind the book

Gayle: She know what makes a good book. There might be a chasm between where you are and where the book should be. For her, the best reading experience is emotionally cathartic. She likes leaving the book slightly different than from when she started it.

Kristin: She tries to make a small, simple, emotional point. She writes for readers like herself, but mostly for herself. She starts off with a feeling she's trying to convey.

Melina: She writes to entertain. She tends to let all her emotions go into a scene when she writes. She writes just to feel connected to something.

About world-building

Kristin: With Graceling, the world-building happened as she wrote it. With Fire, she had a sense of the world and how to use the landscape effectively in the book.

Melina: Her world is less planned and also comes with her writing. Finnikin of the Rock was the building up of the world, while Froi of the Exiles hit the ground running. She's realized that she can't write fantasy in Sydney.

About friendships in their books

Kristin: Her characters have lots of friends because it reminds her of her siblings. Lonely characters need friends; we get to know characters better when they interact with other people.

The discussion between these three ladies was epic (and Melina had the cutest accent!). I felt very lucky indeed, and left Books of Wonder that day feeling inspired and ready to tackle my writing with a fresh perspective. I do hope that you enjoy all the tidbits I've shared!

(On an unrelated note, I was also happy to attend this event because I got to hang out with my friend Estelle, as well as meet fellow bloggers Rachel and Sash and author Victoria Schwab!)


  1. THanks for the re-cap! I'm glad you had a good time!

  2. This is awesome!! I've only read Gayle Forman's books, but it's interesting to see that she never intended to write Where She Went ... it's a great sequel to the first book!

    I also love it when the POV is switched in a novel ... it tends to leave cliff-hangers within the book and keeps the reading fresh.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Awesome event recap! It sounds like you had a ton of fun!

    - Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl

  4. Wow! I am still super jealous you got to attend this event. Thank you for sharing it with us :) I like what Melina said about using a thesaurus and not being a thesaurus.. great advice!

  5. Lovely recap, Alexa! I was there as well! I'll have to make sure to meet you next time we're at an event in the city. =)

  6. Talk about an amazing panel of authors! Totes jealous you got to hang out with awesome bloggers too :)

  7. Wow, what an amazing trifecta, I'm so jealous that you got to see all three in person, but I'm glad you had a great time!

  8. Hooray! Thanks for doing this recap, although I've seen Melina speak, I've never seen Gayle or Kristin so it was great to read their answers :)

  9. AHHH! Jealous! I've never been to Books of Wonder and I am dying to go! It's just hard enough to get to, especially during the week. Which stinks because I would have LOVED to listen to these three ladies and MEET YOU!

  10. Alexa, this is so great! I'm very jealous, but so happy that you got to go. This is an awesome post and you did a great job recapping everything! I'd be over the moon just to meet one of these authors, let alone all three. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Oh wow. So jealous! Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience! Thanks for taking the time to write out all their answers - very interesting!

  12. That was awesome. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    So Melina can't write fantasy in Sydney? Interesting. Can't wait to read Finnikin. I need to liberate it from my nook.

  13. Ooooh, I love Melina! And Gayle! I haven't read any of Kristen's work. Always love learning more about how the develop their stories - it's fascinating! Thank you so much for taking the time to type this up, Alexa! :) LOVED reading it!

  14. Wow, this would be a fantastic event to go to! I read Graceling a couple months ago and I literally finished Jellicoe Road yesterday. I need to read If I Stay and Where She Went--they're on my shelf just waiting to be picked up!

    Seems like you had a awesome time and thanks for sharing all the things they talked about!


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